- VCS3 Taste Sometime in 2004 I wrote a program to impersonate the EMS VCS3, a synth I’d heard on lots of recordings, including Dark Side of the Moon. The sound was sweet and thick, like pork fat. I loved the sound and spent a week or so hacking this instrument together that would eventually be the backbone for my synth weirdness band Wizard Prison. This is the 1st improv I recorded with my new toy I made. The pulses transfixed us. At the end you hear what we in WP called the ‘Party’s Over’ sound, which Scott and I would use to signal it was ready to move on to the next idea.
- Highway 99
- Park Music
- Lego Music
- Proto Stay Love
- These are Circles
- Bizzy Bizzy
Inspired by Raymond Scott, from Urban Scarecrow (2002-2006) I had heard Raymond Scott’s music in cartoons growing up, but hadn’t heard his groundbreaking electronic music work until the Manhattan Research Inc compilation Basta released in the early 2000s. Like some classic mad scientist, Scott built oscillators and mechanic sequencers from scratch, designing everything along the way. I pictured RS’s circular sequencers rotating to create loops of sound and wrote these pieces, under the influence of Soothing Sounds for Baby and the occasional scotch. Most of these were created for my brother’s beautiful film Urban Scarecrow. The first three made it in (I think) but the final three I used for other things…
- Broken Waltz
- Cherry Blossoms
- Short Waves (2008)
- Anxious (1998)
- End Credits
I practice meditation by sitting down and shutting up for 10-20 minutes a day. I practice guitar an hour a day. I practice running for about 1-2 hours, at least 3-4 times per week. I visit similar headspace with each activity, and each sympathizes with my music practice.
In my music practice, I always start out with some itenirary in mind. Warmups for 1/2 hour, scale drills for 1/2 hour, harmony for 1/2 hour, then work on a specific piece. Very often, though, I feel a pull to 'zoom in' on one particular area, one very specific little aspect of what I'm working on. Usually it's a rough section of a piece I'm working on, and I turn it into an exercise. It feels like identifying a little rough spot on my musical surface that needs sanding - repeating the thing slowly and methodically makes me comfortable after a while, with speed and facility not for behind. It feels like some combination of play and meditation.
I first about someone else adopting a similar thought-process in John Stropes article on Michael Hedges' Ragamuffin.
When practicing these opening two bars, you encounter a series of challenges. Here are the two bars, followed by a correlating bit from Stropes' essay:
Maybe it seems obvious, but if you've ever practiced this tune, you know that this piece contains a series of brain teasers, brain teasers for your muscle memory - if that makes sense. Whether you're a fingerstyle diehard or not, I suggest checking Stropes' book out.
One goal of this blog is to share my thoughts around music, and this reductive practice is key for me. It's key for me personally, in developing my ability like I just said, but also key in my composing. For some reason, with me, I am repetitive in practice but avoiding outright repetition in my music. More on that another time!
If you aren't familiar with Mick Goodrick's writing on the guitar, you're missing out. His book The Advancing Guitarist is one I've come back to again and again since I bought it 25 years ago (!) after reading his amazing articles in Guitar Player magazine in the 80s. This book is well known to many, so I won't belabor what so many before me have said, but to sum up: this is the rare (RARE) book that continues to give back no matter how many times one revisits. The only truly humble guitar book I own.
I've been diving deep into his triad material beginning on p. 39 for the last 2 weeks, and have had a series of epiphanies thanks to just… taking some hours and doing exactly as Mick suggests. He begins this section by reiterating fundamental music theory around triads - root position, and 1st and 2nd inversions. One page later, the reader is invited to
go ahead and learn all C major, C minor, C augmented and C diminished triage, all inversions, all registers, all locations, in closed as well as spread voicings that follow.
Four staffs lay out the voicing verbosely:
After revisiting my voicings, and practicing the triad row exercise on the following page, I've found a groove in voice leading through what initially sound like arbitrary progressions. Mick lays out a 48 item 'triad row', using every permutation of maj/min/aug/dim across the 12 possible roots, then generates progressions ala circle of fifths, but with varying intervals. I've been struck by how interesting these progression can sound, particularly playing with how you apply the type of triad. Here are the roots according to consistenly applied intervals (all on C):
Min 2nd: C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C Maj 2nd: C D E F# G# A# C Min 3rd: C Eb Gb A C Maj 3rd: C E G# C Perfect 4th (circle of fourths): C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E A D G C Tritone :) : C F# C Perfect 5th: C G D A E B F# C# G# D# A# F C Minor 6th: C Ab E C Major 6th: C A F# D# C Minor 7th: C Bb Ab Gb E D C Major 7th: C B A# A G# G F# F E D# D C# C
You don't have to use the same interval every time, of course. Mick alternates between maj and min 3rds. You can alternate between as many or few intervals as you like. How about:
Major 3rd, perfect 5th: C E B D# A# D A C# G# C G B F# A# F A E G# D# G D F# C# F C
Applying the 4 triad types to these progressions in a serial fashion yields some interesting results. I've been generating progressions (whether randomly ala Mick's Triad Row, or with some recipe as above) and applying the triad types, THEN voice leading through the results using one set of 3 strings.
C E B D# A# D A C# G# C G B F# A# F A E G# D# G D F# C# F C
My triad series:
M m M m + o M o M +
C Em B D#m A#+ Do A C#o G# C+ G Bm F# A#m F+ Ao E G#o D# G+ D F#m C# Fm C
I pick 3 strings (D, G and B strings, here), and voice lead through my triads. A bit of a workout first time through, but interesting results come from diving deep.